The colony of Georgia was founded in 1733 with the idealistic aim of relieving England’s jails of its poor debtors by giving them a new life in the new land. Life in early colonial Georgia, however, was harsh and difficult. Fresh water was hard to find, swampy land bred disease-bearing insects, attacks by Indians and Spaniards killed many settlers and Georgia’s trustee rule allowed no political freedom for colonial laborers. The colony nearly failed within its first year, although it struggled on until 1754, when the trustee rule ended and a royal governor was appointed.
The Journey by Ship
The hardships of colonists bound for Georgia began with the journey, as settlers were packed into ships “like herring,” receiving only a scant 2 foot by 6 foot space per person. While some passengers fared better, most settlers on route to Georgia faced bitter hardships. Settlers received barely enough food to survive, much of it highly salted meat with few or no vegetables. Disease was rampant and death common; few children survived the trip. Sea sickness, scurvy, fever, dysentery and other illnesses killed many settlers before they arrived.
Attacks by Spanish and Indians
Florida had been claimed by the Spanish and a permanent colony started in 1565. Georgia was established as a buffer between Carolina and the Spanish colony. Settlers in Georgia had to withstand attacks by both the Spaniards and Indian tribes who objected to the increasing quantity of white settlers on their land. In 1739, war began between England and Spain, and in 1742, Georgia colony was attacked by Spanish forces. The Spanish of St. Augustine sent 3,000 soldiers and 36 ships to oppose Georgia's 1,000 men. James Oglethorpe, the colony’s founder, was an excellent military man and managed to evade the stronger Spanish until his men were able to confuse and ambush them, killing the majority of the Spaniards.
Savannah Built Near Swamps
Although Oglethorpe chose the site of Savannah for what he assumed was the overall healthiness of the area, he was mistaken. Nearby swamps were home to many insects that became a bane to the settlers. Malaria and fevers caused a high death rate among colonial Georgians. Illnesses due to hunger and malnutrition were also common. Of the 144 original settlers, one in three died within the first year, many from disease.
The main money-making crops in colonial Georgia were tobacco, indigo and rice, all of which required intensive manual labor. Indentured servitude became one of the solutions to the need for laborers. The poor of England and other nations could arrange for passage to Georgia by signing a contract of indenture to a master for a number of years, usually four to seven. While some indentured servants received fair treatment, others had cruel masters who demanded hard physical labor, fed their servants insufficiently and beat them for any number of infractions. As indentured servants, women experienced rape by their masters or others. As punishment for becoming pregnant, their labor terms were extended.